RPG Analysis

Posted on Oct 2nd 2014 at 10:09:05 AM by (Fleach)
Posted under Digital distribution, Nostalgia, Steam, GOG, PSN, XBLA, Download, I dont even own what Im playing

Is this a collection?

I'm facing a dilemma, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Digitally distributed games are saturating the market, and as a collector, I feel a little strange.

Digital distribution isn't a bad thing by any means; in fact it has allowed me to play many games I would otherwise not have the chance to experience. There's just no way I would find Myst out in the wild, but thanks to outlets like Steam and GOG, I now have a means of playing this game, as well as other classics, from over a decade ago. It's also given me the opportunity to play a handful of incredible independently released games like Gone Home, The Stanley Parable, and To the Moon. All of this thanks to huge leaps in technological advancements. But do these advancements come with a hidden price?

In recent years, the amount of games people have access to has skyrocketed. We are no longer subject to going to a store to buy pieces of plastic and metal that contain the data which make up a game. We can simply log on to any number of online gaming clients and have a plethora of available games to choose from that can be played within minutes of purchasing. Gone are the days of saving allowance and chore money, going to a retail outlet, and exchanging our hard-earned cash for that special game; the modern gamer needs only to link a credit card to a profile and click the download link for a desired title. The sentimental value of games as personal objects has diminished so much lately because the act of buying games has become so routine and mindless.

This is why I'm facing an impasse that comes in two parts: (1) I don't feel as though I own the games in my online libraries, and (2) I feel that there needs to be a group to curate our modern games for future gamers.

I resisted becoming an adopter of digital games for the longest time until I caved in by admitting to myself that these games won't see the light of day on a disc and I'll miss out of something I'm looking forward to. I refused to go down the digital route because I couldn't understand not owning a tangible game; going through a list of games just isn't the same as standing in front of a collection. I wholeheartedly enjoy browsing my shelves for a game and flipping through the manual. Actually, some of my fondest gaming memories come from reading manuals because I wasn't able to play a game due to the TV being used by other family members. Now, I can download and play a game almost immediately; like a junky getting his fix, I have that instant gratification of starting a game. There's no wait, no anticipation, it's just there. After a few clicks and a Paypal transaction, I'm within a game, a game which I can't really call mine. These games just don't feel like they belong to me, and I feel this has caused games to lose their sentimental value. Selecting from a list of games within my Steam account doesn't compare to inserting a cartridge into a gaming console.

Digital games are concerning to me because when Steam or PSN is shut down, I won't be able to play them anymore, and worse, I won't experience any sense of loss when they are gone or feel nostalgic twenty years from now. These games that I enjoyed, titles that creative people slaved over, will cease to be. They will be memories at best.

Having been born in the early 90's, I completely missed out on the NES, but now as a collector, I can play these games that have made their way into popular culture. Our children probably won't be able to say the same about games released in this modern era unless someone can curate these games so that they don't fade into oblivion. But then we face the question of who do we burden with this responsibility? This is a issue which gamers should not take lightly as their favorite memories lie in the hands of those tasked with preserving our medium. Of course, this is a lofty ambition and wouldn't be an easy undertaking, but if we want our hobby and memories to live on it's a question that can't be swept under the rug.

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The same can be said about a lot of tactile media we grew up with: books, music, movies, etc. I wonder sometimes if I collect for the purpose of loving all of this stuff and being able to put my hands directly on it, or for the fear of never being able to do that again at some point in my life. A friend of mine entered my gameroom once and said, "Wow, this is simply amazing! Do you ever stop and think, 'My son's wife is going to sell all of this s@#t one day?'"  That was off-putting, but you know, he's probably right.....

I don't download games either, even though there are a few games I would consider non-physical releases for if I had the right systems (Shovel Knight and Hot Line Miami to name a few). I feel like more than just the games, we are losing a great deal of artwork and detail that make (err...made) video games and other forms of media so awesome. Face it, digital booklets just don't have the same appeal. To each their own of course and I don't criticize people for downloading; I just don't do it. A big part of me just feels like things are just slipping away and that I'm one step away from having a chip inserted in my person that will "conveniently" have "everything I need" in life without the fuss of bothering to lift a finger or explore the world. Maybe I cease with reading Orwell & Huxley....or do it on my wife's Kindle, which she never uses anymore.
I used to be a "no-downloads" kind of person too. That went for everything. I had libraries of CDs and DVDs in addition to of course my video games.

But I came to the realization that all this "stuff" was just dragging me down, and as the cliche goes, you can't take it with you.

Now the CDs and DVDs are all gone, and I've seen many more different movies and heard a much more diverse variety of music since turning to mainly streaming.

As Rich said, to each his own. I feel like I've transitioned from being passionately on one side of the argument to the exact opposite, so I get it.

Having said that, it's a big bad world out there, and it sucks that you'll never play Hotline Miami or Shovel Knight just because it's not embodied by a thing you can call your own.

I do believe that archiving of digital media has to be done better, but I think that's an entirely different topic.
Sorry, have to post again as I had some further thoughts. Rich I misread that you would consider downloading certain games, but my point stands. As a collector on the fence about downloading, consider this: if there is never going to be a physical release of a game, you will never own it, therefore the only condition that changes is whether or not you play it. You can either play Shovel Knight and never own it or never play Shovel Knight and never own it. Why cut off your nose that way?
As a collector, I refuse to collect anything that is not truly physical. I am a huge collector of comics foremost, and refuse to go digital. Even if it means I might miss out on something, because it is download only, I am ok with that.

Sometimes patience pays off for us stubborn guys, like in the case of NES Remix.

Maybe Shovel Knight will get a physical release someday, maybe not. In the meantime, not being able to play one good game out of thousands, will not cause me to lose sleep.
@GrayGhost81: "...if there is never going to be a physical release of a game, you will never own it, therefore the only condition that changes is whether or not you play it. You can either play Shovel Knight and never own it or never play Shovel Knight and never own it. Why cut off your nose that way?"

As I said, I wouldn't cut off my nose in this manner to be able to play these games. If I owned a system in which I could play these games, I would. But in saying this, if there were ever physical copies of these games (even if they cost say 10 times as much), I'd buy a physical copy. That's just me. I like the tangible. My problem is that I don't buy current gen systems, so I am at further disadvantage in that some of these titles may not be downloadable by the time I catch up.  Again, to each their own. I'm not trying to be obtuse or debate this issue, only stating how I prefer to "collect."
I think there are many people who will echo your thoughts, Fleach.  The digital route is a hard one for many, especially if you have a lot invested (not just money) in physical things.  Personally, I jumped headfirst into digital gaming once Steam got off the ground, but have pulled back as of late for some of the same reasons you mentioned.  Lately when I do purchase digital, I've been making sure that they are DRM free (GoG and most of Desura).  I do have an "off-line" Steam machine, but there are certain games that I'm not sure will play this way (Dark Souls, FarCry 3, FFVII).
I feel that with the DRM on the games, if Steam closes they are not my games anymore, all digital gaming is like renting, you dont really own them.
For me, I was also against downloading stuff because it wasn't physical for a long time (and still am in terms of collecting), but what changed things for me was the achievement system on the Xbox 360. It goes much deeper, but basically, the biggest thing I missed out on being younger than some of you guys was the "Arcade" era of gaming. I am very competitive and had always hated that I missed out on gaming during a time when everybody fought for the highest score to beat their friends.

After I graduated High school, I bought a 360, and became addicted to the achievement system to use it in a way similar to a high score, having more achievements and points overall as well as for certain games gave me a way to compete...but it turned into an addiction I still struggle with on some level. For years, I wouldn't play anything else because it didn't have achievements, which helped build my pile of shame; but also like GrayGhost said for his musical variety, helped me to experience games I normally would never have.

I still prefer physical stuff over digital, and will always buy the physical copy if it is available, just like Mike said with the NES Remix. (Super excited for that, again because of...COMPETITION!) But purchasing the games on the XBLA whether available physically or not, allowed me to boost my scores. Plus, it really is convenient to have games available without having to dig out a system out of storage just to play it, although I would disagree if you told me that is a good reason to buy digitally over physically. Having 8 different ways to play Dig Dug is a bit excessive, I will admit.
I'm not against digital distribution, but I am against distribution going completely digital.
What about DLC? How could that be archived for future use? So many games that in the future will only be playable in their unfinished state...
DLC's easily archived. They're all delivered in packaged formats that can be installed in some way.
@Shadow Kisuragi: You're talking about DLC for consoles, right? Wouldn't that require installing some custom firmware on them?
If in some miraculous way I can obtain every single physical game I might possibly be interested in I'll dive head first into digital games. Until then there is so much I've missed out on physically that I'm not even slightly tempted to see what is available on the digital front.

I made an exception to that once and it bit me in the buns. Wasn't a great first impression and while I'm sure there have been vast improvements since then I'm happy filling my shelves with stuff I can easily trade or sell should I choose to.

And I agree with Rich that I would happily pay a premium for interesting digital games to come out on a disc/cart. I'd drop crazy money if Capcom would put out Mega Man 9 and/or 10 on a disc for me. Went from crazy excited to severely disappointed when they announced the Capcom Essentials bundle and then found out MM10 was a download voucher and everything else was on disc Sad
I actually got in on the digital distributors fairly early compared to most on here. I remember playing vanilla TF2 early on in Steam's life on my old account that I lost the login info for. I had so many achievements from back then, I kinda cared about them and would actually for them. I must have spent the better part of a week as a pyro doing nothing but shooting my flare gun to get the Attention Getter achievement.

I just like games and want to play them. I prefer physical copies, but if its not easily available or non-existent then I'll buy a digital copy. Most actual physical PC releases these days are little more than a Steam, Origin, or uPlay key.

The rise of digital distribution has honestly helped me relieve myself of the hoarding I used to call "collecting." By only buying a game digitally if I want to play it NOW, I've found that I buy far less games, spend far less money, and get far more time and enjoyment out of the games I do buy. So there is that plus.
@mumboking: You can sideload them, but it would likely require custom firmware yes. Or a development kit.
I don't want to pay for digital games, but I am happy enough to play them. I get quite a few this way with the Xbox Games with Gold and Bing Rewards. Am I interested in spending my own money on them? Not really at this time.
I like owning games. I don't like the idea of my games suddenly stopping working because someone goes out of business. Does this mean that I miss some things? Sure. Is there still plenty to play? Yes.
Good read, Fleach. Great points by those who compared this digital game rev to when music first went digital.  Also have to agree with noiseredux that the digital stuff has helped me relieve myself of the hoarding of current gen stuff that I wasn't really that interested in but I kept it just cause.

I don't collect anything beyond the Dreamcast.  That may be a factor in why I have no problems at all playing most anything beyond the DC digitally if I can get a better deal than retail price.  If I were a current generation collector, I might feel differently but newer stuff isn't interesting to me.  Retail small box PC game cases aren't interesting.  Xbox One game cases with a disc and no manual aren't interesting.  There are exceptions like certain special releases and franchises that I really like but for the most part, I have no problem with digital.

Everyone talks about the possibility of someone going out of business or "what happens when the servers go away".  I just don't think about that stuff.  I have a huge library of digital games and there has never been a single time when I wasn't able to fire up any game in my digital library.

"What happens in 30 years when the company if gone and your games won't run?"  I don't know.  Maybe I'll go outside.  Go on a trip.  Read a book.  Play with my kids.  My life isn't over if I invest a few dollars in a digital library, get a whole lot of enjoyment out of it, and have to move on someday.  Like I said, I don't "collect" the games that I play now.  I purchase them to enjoy them now.  My favorites will get played again as time goes by and as new stuff comes out, I'll play new stuff.  If I feel like going back and playing a SNES games, I'll do that.  I don't understand the feelings of the people who think they are betraying some idealistic collector code by embracing digital games.  If you like games, play games.  If you like collecting, collect.  There is no wrong way to do it.
Wow, I never expected to receive this much discussion from my post. And a lot of the conversations here are constructive or insightful. Thanks guys!

Even though I think all of your comments are great I want to take some time to respond to the ones that stood out to me.

@bombatomba: I'll admit that I'm new to digital gaming, and PC games especially, so I never considered the option for DRM-free games. This certainly seems like it's the best option if you want preserve your games so they can be played long after serves or developers shut down. That's something I'm going to have to look into.

@douglie007: That's exactly how I feel too. After paying for a Steam or PSN game (especially the PS+ ones) I feel like I've only been granted permission to use the product for as long as the service provider is allowing me to. It's impossible for me to say that these are my games. I'm not complaining about that, but it would be nice to keep the goods that I exchanged money for.

@singlebanana: Your stance on digital games is the sole reason I went down the Steam route. That evolved into downloading PSN games. There's just too much out there to pass up on. It's a blessing and a curse really. You have that sense of satisfaction of playing that much anticipated game, but you can't get a chance to look back at the object and enjoy the memories it gave you. When it comes to waiting/hoping for a physical release it's sometimes worthwhile as you can get some neat extra goodies (like the faux SNES packaging for Gone Home) but it often like a question of "if" instead of "when" a game will get a retail release these days.

Thanks again guys for the great responses. I'm thrilled to have produced something that's stirred up such a buzz and thoughtful discussion.
Wildbil nailed it.
The majority of the problems that people have noted with digital distribution is not actually a problem with digital.  It's a problem with DRM, and people just automatically associate DRM with digital media.  They are not the same.  MP3 files bought from Amazon are DRM free and you can back them up and store them on as many hard drives as you want.  Video games can be DRM free too as bombatomba said, and if you're worried about servers going down, you can always go this way. 

Digital distribution is awesome - especially if you move around a lot.  DRM, however, is crap.
@Zthun: That's probably the case for most people, but here many of gripe that we can't physically touch and hold these newer games. Many also aren't too happy that games don't come with manual booklets any more.

I have to admit that I've never given DRM much thought because I'm very new to online/PC gaming but it does definitely sound like something I could live without.

Thanks for reading the article and sharing your thoughts Zthun!
Ramble ramble ramble... i went off track a lot and deleted and rewrote a lot that may or may not still be apparent... Ramble ramble ramble....

As someone with hundreds of dollars in no longer available digital content...  Digital distribution makes me sad and angry.

Assuming for arguments sake that all these digital forms of media can be still redownloaded and redistributed at some point in the future from a different source why pay for them at all?

Bootleg physical releases IMO never caught on with the same rampancy of bootleg "digital".
With a stolen download it isn't like it looks out of place compared to the rest of my downloads. It is just another file in a folder.

That bootleg movie on the other hand. With the generic slimline case, wrong box art, and the title written in magic marker on a low quality DVD-R... what do you expect for 3$?

I was much more into digital when i was under age. But i found i ended up caring much less for the products.
I had thousands of CDs downloaded. I couldn't tell you what 99% of it was now. I certainly discovered some cool non mainstream stuff but it just got mixed into the shuffle.

With Netflix i've streamed hundreds of movies and documentaries and TV shows. I can more or less remember most of what i have seen. But like the music i can't remember the names of most of them. Even when i type up my "What are you watching" posts i need to look back at my history on Netflix to refresh my memory.

With digital games my primary exposure has been through MS related sources.* Again in most instances i can remember what the game was about, if the gameplay, controls, graphics/camera were good, and if the achievements were easy.

In nearly all instances i finish them and immediately delete the game and save file. In a few rare cases i have kept the save either to help someone out(Narco Terror for instance) or because other games might rely on them (Walking Dead, Wolf Among Us etc)

My biggest problems with the forced march to digital on home consoles (i have 0 opinion on PCs) are:
pricing - a digitally distributed game should not be 60$s + tax on launch when i could go to the store and buy the same game for 60$s and have either a return policy or the chance to resell the game if i do not like it or beat it in 10 hours. Also how many games on digital market places (that also have retail releases) end up being priced VASTLY higher than what you could walk into a store and buy it for new never mind the used price.

availability - be it limited to specific regions, due to a license expiration or a company going under. With digital things can be here now and gone in the blink of an eye. I know MS has actually taken it a step further with the One (not sure about others) and can actually revoke your access to a game.

Quality control - is extremely lacking, though this is not specific to digital games. Just the apparent culture of developers/publishers now. Eh just release a patch later. Launch day is the beta test. Of course if the game doesn't sell well there isn't much incentive to patch it. Or if the game sells REALLY well there also isn't much incentive as you might have already maxed out earnings potential.

Servers that go down a year or sometimes months after release. But even with that new limited game play capability the prices will remain the same. Here is one great example http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Product/SSC-Challenge-Map-Pack/00000000-0000-400c-80cf-0003454107f8 $7.50 for DLC that you can't play without the servers.

I have said more and more that i want to drop out of current gen and go back to older pre-online required, patches/updates needed. But i don't have the space, the money and current gen gaming has become a social outlet for me as much as collecting once was. Possibly more.

With ALL my complaints and how much i hate digital distribution and digital exclusive content and how i think it is going to ruin everything. I still support it. Because all the bitching in the world doesn't matter. The only way to speak is with your wallet... To make matters worse my wallet has no physical currency in it. Just a debit card... a PayPal debit card.

@Izret101: "Ramble, Ramble, Ramble" (hands Izret the "Enemy Bait" to pass by)  Smiley
@Izret101:*meekly puts hand up*
I've embraced adding PSN and XBLA titles to my collection because they reside on a hard drive that I own and are not tied to being online. PS+ games are iffy for me, I don't track them - I do download them but those are always going to be tied to a subscription. Yuck. On the PC side, I like GOG a good bit.

My biggest issue with physical collecting today is the patches and online-required portions. Sure they save to my hard drive, and I'm good there but look at NHL '15 (and what happened with NBA Live '14) - EA will be releasing full blown modes of this game over the coming months. The physical copy you buy is sparse (especially with how bad Live was out of the box) and nearly unplayable unless you go online.

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Role Playing games are my favourite genre of the gaming library. I feel it is appropriate to take a look at the games that have touched me in my time as a gamer and collector and share them with the community. Feel free to discuss your thoughts, ideas, and challenge my opinions. The conversation is welcomed.
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